castro 051221SPRINGFIELD – This year, State Senator Cristina Castro (D- Elgin) spearheaded a measure to enhance the Voices of Immigrant Communities Empowering Survivors Act in order to encourage people to report crimes without fear of jeopardizing their immigration status. The legislation was signed into law on Monday.

“Everyone deserves to be able to protect themselves from crime, and a big part of that is having the ability to report wrongs against them or their loved ones to law enforcement,” Castro said. “The VOICES Act and these enhancements will help both victims harmed by criminal activity and law enforcement looking to investigate the criminal activity.”

The VOICES Act was initially passed to ensure that immigrant survivors of trafficking and certain qualifying violent crimes will have uniform access to the U or T visa throughout the state. In order for an immigrant survivor of crime to qualify for U or T visas, they must first obtain a signed certification from the relevant law enforcement agency affirming the applicant’s willingness to cooperate in the investigation or prosecution of the case.

This enhancement would strengthen language in current law to state that the designated certifying official must notify an applicant if the official determines that the applicant does not meet the standards of a qualifying criminal activity and that they must explain their decision in writing. 

"No one should be forced to live in fear, afraid to report a crime or abuse because of their immigration status," said State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz (D- Glenview), the House sponsor of the bill. "Too often, immigrants are vulnerable to predators that understand the danger and difficulty they can face in reporting crimes.  By strengthening the VOICES Act to bring consistency and transparency to the process, we make these victims and our entire community safer."

Senate Bill 2079 was signed by Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday, and it goes into effect Jan. 1, 2022.